Although typically associated with the outdoors and large orchards, anyone can (and should!) enjoy the benefits of homegrown, fresh fruits by growing dwarf varieties of fruit trees in pots or containers.
While most full-sized fruit tree varieties will be challenging to grow in pots, but you can often grow dwarf or semi-dwarf variety or some kind of berries in small containers with acceptable results. For gardeners with limited space growing berries in containers on a balcony, porch, or patio, offer a speedy harvest and better return on effort than growing them in the ground.
As long as you account for some important factors and considerations like pot size, light needs, you can skip a trip to the grocery store in August and pluck off a sun-ripened peach; with good sunlight exposure, potted fruit trees can be grown just about everywhere you want!
To help you get growing your small-space fruit garden, this article will outline the top 10 fruits and berries to grow in pots, with several of our favorite cultivars for each that can successfully be grown in containers, along with our best tips for getting the most out of your container fruit garden.
Why grow Fruits And berries in pots?
If you have limited outdoor space, poor soil, or lack of sun, a container garden with berries and fruits may be the ideal thing for you.
Growing in pots can prove advantageous for a number of reasons, and is particularly ideal for those who have limited space.
It provides mobility in terms of where on your property you want the plant, and you can move the pot around according to the location of sunnier or shadier spots (although you might need a hand to lift it!)
Pots also allow for adaptability to weather changes, so if winter comes early one year you can move your pot indoors and need not worry about your saplings (young trees) dying in a cold snap.
2: Control over soil
Another benefit is if a variety of fruit or berry you want to grow requires specific soil conditions, you can micromanage the soil in your pot to make sure your plant has everything it needs to succeed that it might not find in the ground.
3: Easy harvesting
Finally, and perhaps the most advantageous quality of potted trees, is the ease of harvesting. If you have ever grown or picked fruit from a full size fruit tree, you will know it is no mean feat!
Ladders, pruning wild and high branches, and fallen fruit attracting pests are all challenges one does not need to deal with when growing smaller trees in pots- and you get the same delicious fruits!
Limitations of Growing Fruit Trees In Containers
While there’s no denying the advantages of growing your very own small fruit garden in a container if you have little to no space with full sun exposure, there are a few limitations that should be considered as well when growing potted fruit trees in tiny garden spaces.
1: Less choice of variety
Unless you have the world’s largest pot, you cannot grow a full-size fruit tree in a container.
It will need to be a dwarf or possibly semi-dwarf variety, which will vary in size depending on the variety you are growing, but can be anywhere from 5ft to over 25ft.
A dwarf fruit tree will produce, on average, less fruit than a full-sized variety that was planted in the ground, although it will typically start producing fruit earlier, just a couple years after planting (Michaels, 2019).
2: More vulnerable trees
It will also have much shallower roots, which means that the tree is less tolerant to drought and needs to be watered and monitored frequently for dry soil.
Once the tree starts fruiting, the full-sized fruit on the small tree can cause it to rip from its roots and topple over.
To avoid this it is important to stake the fruit trees, and make sure the pots are secure. If this still sounds like a reasonable compromise for fresh fruit and berries, read on!
The Importance of Choosing the Right Rootstock
Dwarf fruit trees and bushes are young plants that have been grafted (which means attached) onto a dwarfing rootstock. When buying fruit trees for your pots, you need to ensure your sapling has a dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstock (Campion, 2021).
What Is A Rootstock And How Do I Choose One For A Fruit Tree?
A rootstock is essentially a stem that has a developed root system, and is almost always buried underground or under the soil in a pot.
Practically every fruit tree you can buy is in reality composed of at least two separate varieties, the rootstock variety and then the fruiting variety attached or grafted on top of it, which is called the scion.
The fruit producing part determines, as you might have guessed, what kind of fruit the tree produces that you then buy from the grocery store. For example Pink Lady or McIntosh apples are produced by a specific scion that is attached to a different rootstock.
Why does it matter?
The rootstock is usually what determines the more physical and chemical specifications of the tree: the height and width it will reach, what kind of soil it needs to be grown in, what pests or diseases it is resistant to, and what kind of temperatures it can withstand.
This is very important to consider when purchasing saplings from fruit tree breeders, as different rootstocks have different labels or codes associated with them.
So if you are buying a dwarf fruit tree to grow in a pot, ensure with the seller that the rootstock is genuinely of a dwarf variety before buying.
A little further below you can find a list that contains some recommendations for different dwarf varieties that do well in pots.
5 Tips for Growing Fruit in Containers
Aside from the importance of selecting a good dwarf variety, there are a few other key considerations that should be taken into account when growing fruit tree or bush in containers.
1: Choose A Large, Deep Containers With Drainage
For potted fruits the size of the container needs to be at least twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball you are planting it in (note: this is not relevant for berries).
Most fruit trees will need to be potted up every couple of years, but they should start off with a lot of space to be successful, and a good sized drainage hole or holes.
You may also want to consider spending a little more time selecting (or upcycling!) a good quality pot; cheap plastic may not be able to handle the weight and demands of even a small tree, and some can even leach harmful chemicals into the soil over time.
Ceramic and terra-cotta pots are stable and aesthetic options, but can crack when left outdoors in the winter. Also keep in mind that terra-cotta pots are porous and can cause soil to dry out quicker.
2: Fertilize Your Potted Fruit trees with compost
Because of the limited amount of soil in a pot, and because young trees guzzle nutrients, fertilizer needs to be occasionally added to ensure there is enough food for the plant to eat.
Kitchen compost is a wonderful, homegrown and sustainable way to fertilize your plants, and has no synthetic chemicals.
Be careful not to over do it, once a month is likely more than frequent enough to amend your soil with compost.
3: Watering Is The Most Important Thing To Watch For
As mentioned before, potted trees are more likely to be affected by dry conditions, which is something to be wary of especially in warmer climates.
Drip irrigation or an irrigation bladder is a good way to ensure that your plant is steadily getting enough water, although make sure to check it once in a while and adjust the drip as needed- soggy soil is not good!
A good indicator is sticking a finger in up to the second knuckle, and if it’s still dry at that depth then it needs watering.
4: Prune to the size you want
A last note is to stay on top of pruning, as even dwarf fruit tree varieties and especially semi-dwarf varieties can get out of control.
The best way to keep a fruit tree in line with the size you want is to prune it regularly, best done in the winter when the trees are dormant and will be less shocked by the removal of their branches and be able to recover more quickly.
5: Choose Cross Self-pollinating fruit Variety
The way your chosen variety of tree pollinates is very important because it determines whether or not you get any fruit!
Pollination occurs when trees are blossoming, and is the process of pollen getting transferred from the male part of the flower (the anthers) to the female part of the flower (the stigma). Once the flower has been pollinated, it then sets its fruit.
Most fruit trees require pollination from a different variety of the plant to set fruit (cross-pollination), and this is to ensure genetic diversity.
However there are a number of varieties that are self-pollinating, and can have the same plant pollinate its own flowers.
If you have a very small space with only room for one type of a fruit tree, make sure you buy a self-pollinating variety so that your trees produce fruit.
If you have more space, get a couple different varieties going in different pots, and they will pollinate each other with some help from bees and the wind! Keep in mind that the fruit from cross-pollinating trees will often be larger than that from self-pollinating.
10 Best Fruits and Berries To Grow In Pots And Containers
What grows best in your space will vary depending on the climate where you live, so make sure to cross reference with your seller to ensure your chosen variety is suitable for your region.
Here are 10 of the best fruits and berries that you can grow in containers in your patio, porch, or balcony with good sun exposure.
Maybe one of the most popular trees to grow in pots due to the number of dwarf varieties available, apples do well in a sunny spot of the garden. Use a large pot at least 50cm (~20in) wide. Braeburn is a self-pollinating variety, and some reputable dwarf rootstocks are M26, M27, M9 and G65.
Consider amending the soil with liquid seaweed throughout the summer, which is a great organic fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen.
2: Cherries (sweet and sour)
Cherries are as famous for their beautiful spring blossoms as they are for their delicious fruits. Sweet cherries do well in sunnier spots and sour cherries can tolerate shadier spots.
The sweet ones are great for eating and sour cherries are great for making jam. Make sure to plant them in pots that are at least 60cm (~24in) wide, and they tend to be particularly shallow rooted so water frequently! For sweet cherries try Gisela 5, and Colt for sour.
Figs do amazing in pots because they produce very well under restricted growing conditions. If you live in a cooler climate it can be a good idea to bring them in during the winter.
Because figs are native to the Mediterranean, growing them in pots with some gravel or pebbles can simulate the rocky environment they are used to where the roots are restricted. A good variety to grow in pots is White Marseilles.
Pears are famously hardy and as a result the dwarf varieties do well in containers. Some good self-pollinating varieties include the Colette Everbearing pear and the Conference pear, and Quince C is a popular dwarf rootstock.
Fill the bottom of the pot with gravel for drainage and place in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun per day for ideal conditions.
Plums do well in pots but their flowers are very sensitive to cool springtime temperatures, so make sure to cover them with fleece to protect them once they’re out. When flowering and fruiting, frequently add compost to the soil to support growth.
They can set a lot of fruit so be sure to thin them out to get larger plums. Ruby Blood or Satsuma are good dwarf varieties, but if you only have room for one go for the Santa Rosa dwarf plum which is self-fertile.
6: Peaches and nectarines
Peaches and nectarines are slightly different fruits but require the same growing conditions. They love the sun! Find a good sunny spot during the summer and make sure to bring them indoors during the winter.
Fill the bottom of your pot with gravel before adding soil to improve drainage. The varieties Terrace Amber and Terrace Ruby are dwarf varieties that are ideal for pots, although be prepared for the smaller fruits they produce.
Strawberries are commonly grown in containers because of their shallow root systems and their funny way of cloning themselves by shooting out ‘runners’ that develop roots of their own and become an independent plant.
Strawberry pots are designed around the runners and will have multiple tiers for them to climb into, but you can use any container that is at least 10cm (~4in) deep. Some varieties that produce throughout the season are Tribute and Seascape.
Typically planted as canes that came from another plant, raspberries can do well in pots as long as they are of a less bushy variety.
Raspberry Shortcake is a dwarf variety that is self-pollinating, compact, and doesn’t even produce thorns! You will still want to give them a good wide pot that is at least 75cm (~30 in) wide, so new canes have space to spring up.
A popular berry to grow because of their easy-going nature, gooseberries do well in pots and thrive in the sun but can handle some moderate shade. Pixwell and Invicta require very little care and are both self-pollinating varieties. Very delicious in a pie or homemade jam!
Blueberries are ideal for pots as they are a little fussy about soil conditions, which we can control easily in a container.
They like acidic soil, so keep that in mind when buying soil (peat-free), and a great way to encourage growth is pouring used coffee grounds around the base of the plant no more than once every couple of weeks. Duke and Ozark Blue are good, small varieties for pots.
How To Protect Container Fruit Trees During Winter
This is highly dependent on where you live and how cold it gets, but here are some different options to consider. Here are four easy ways to protect your container fruit trees from winter damage.
Now Get Growing!
So now you have all the information you need to grow fruit trees and berries in pots, just get started!
Just remember to buy dwarf varieties, choose self-pollinating if you don’t have much space, keep an eye on how dry the soil is, and prune away any ambitious branches!
Keep a positive attitude and you’ll have your own mini orchard in no time.